PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 27 May, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 27 May, 2003, 12:00am

I refer to the article by Joseph Lo headlined 'Hong Kong's tunnel of mixed blessing' (South China Morning Post, May 26).

In the interest of equalising traffic flow and easing congestion, the toll for a car using any of the harbour tunnels should be set at $15.

When the Western tunnel was opened, it was considered that a toll of $30 would provide profit and meet the cost of capital and government royalties, given a sufficient traffic flow. A $15 subsidy from the Cross-Harbour Tunnel would reduce that toll to $15.

The Cross-Harbour Tunnel has been fully paid for and the government has reaped handsome profits since the day it opened. Its $15 toll should be used to subsidise the Western tunnel.

The Eastern tunnel toll stands at $15. Operating costs of the Cross-Harbour Tunnel (CHT) should be paid for from the government royalties and charges gleaned from all other tunnels, including the Eastern and Western tunnels.

When it opened in August 1972, the CHT toll was $2.50. This would return the developers, led by Duggie Clague, a healthy profit even after paying the government a royalty of 7 per cent and fees for land usage of $75,000.

Jardines owned the Star Ferry and the Lau family the Yaumati Ferry. Vehicle ferry tolls were $2 and so that the CHT would not go out of business, the government directed that its toll be doubled to $5. The CHT company was very profitable, even through the inflation of the 1970s and 80s.

In 1984, to ease traffic congestion, the government again doubled the toll to $10 by the imposition of a $5 tax. By 1999, when the franchise ended, instead of dropping the toll to an economically justifiable $1.25 the government again doubled the toll to $20 in an effort to ease traffic congestion.

To paraphrase Denis Bray in his Hong Kong Metamorphosis, the government has had a very nice windfall for the 30 years that the Cross-Harbour Tunnel has been in existence. It is again time for the government to act to ease cross-harbour traffic congestion, this time by setting the same toll for each harbour tunnel.

And given the harsh economic realities of today, that toll should be $15.

D. CASTLEDINE, Clear Water Bay